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Head Start remembers those fighting cancer

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Anessa Alvarez doesn’t feel alone in her fight with cancer.

And the 10-year old from Texas isn’t alone.

Anessa began her fight against Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer, after her diagnosis in late May. Fast-forward five months, she was an honored guest of Child & Family Services, Inc. of Lea County’s “Tribute in Pink” celebration Thursday night held at the Fletcher Center on East Snyder.

More than 100 people spanning all ages donned black and pink shirts, wore pink bandanas, lit pink and white candles, walked, danced and raised money to encourage Anessa who is the step-daughter of a head start employee, honor cancer survivors and remember someone taken after a battle with cancer. Food and door prizes rounded out the memorial and celebration that coincided with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“I feel like people are supporting me and I feel like I’m not the only one going through it,” Anessa said. “And that I have a bunch of people behind me. It’s not just me. It’s a whole lot of other people.”

Anessa’s mother, Selene Ramirez, of Cactus, Texas, called her daughter a warrior and a fighter.

“We’re just very thankful of all the support we’re getting,” she said.

Patricia Grovey, executive director for Child and Family Services, Inc., in Lea County that sponsors the Head Start program, said Tribute in Pink is a collaboration between her fitness company “Personal Best and Beyond” and Child and Family Services, Inc., which employs more than 90 women and a few men. Two employees, Debbie Owen and Graciela Sanchez, were also recognized as cancer survivors Thursday.

“We are not just concentrating on breast cancer — which breast cancer is very dear to us — because we’ve had several staff that are survivors of breast cancer, but also other forms of cancer,” Grovey said. “It is an opportunity for women and some men to collectively come together to bring forth positive energy, positive vibes and to increase awareness about the need for the cure. And it’s our opportunity to give back to the community.”

Grovey said she selects a person in the community or close by who has been “touched by cancer” and fighting. She added Anessa will receive 100 percent of the door proceeds from the event. Grovey presented her with gifts, including one that quoted Proverbs 31:25. “She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future,” it read.

To kick off Tribute in Pink, Grovey and attendees remembered Olma Marquez, who passed away earlier this year from cancer, at an emotional ceremony following a cancer tribute walk. The crowd, many of whom wore pink signs in honor or in celebration of someone, walked together to Coffield Early Head Start where a garden was dedicated by her coworkers, family and friends. Many placed paper flowers with written names of people in the garden that bears Olma’s name. Staff members also painted lady bugs on lots of rocks that were carefully arranged in the shape of an awareness ribbon.

“This time last year, we were dancing on behalf of our beloved toddler two teacher, Olma Marquez,” Grovey said. “She unfortunately lost her fight. We were with her every step of the way as she battled and we wanted to memorialize her beautiful, beautiful spirit and her love. She was an outstanding teacher.”

Debbie, early headstart manager and center coordinator for Washington Heights, said she marks her 10-year survivor anniversary next year. She emphasized the need for information and the importance of exercise for people, especially cancer survivors.

“I’m just honored that we make it such a big deal because it is,” Debbie said. “There’s so many people that are affected, not only by breast cancer, but by other cancers. I did lose my husband with esophageal cancer as well. I’m glad that we’re not just honoring the breast cancer (awareness), but we’re doing it for all cancers.”

Graciela, a nurse, said the event means “everything” to her with tears in her eyes. Once something like cancer happens, Graciela explained “you just have a whole different perspective on life.”

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